The effectiveness of empathy- versus fear-arousing antismoking PSAs

Health Commun. Jul-Aug 2011;26(5):404-15. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2011.552480. Epub 2011 Jun 29.


Building on a previous study (Shen, 2010), this paper investigates the effectiveness of fear- versus empathy-arousing antismoking PSAs and examines the roles of message-induced fear and state empathy in persuasion. Twelve professionally produced antismoking PSAs were used as stimuli messages in a 3 (message type: empathy, fear vs. control) × 4 (messages) mixed design study. The 260 participants were randomly assigned to each message type and watched four PSAs presented in a random sequence. Results from multilevel modeling analyses showed that empathy-arousing messages are potentially more effective than fear-arousing ones. Both fear and state empathy were found to have a positive direct effect on persuasion. However, fear also had a negative indirect impact on persuasion by activating psychological reactance, while state empathy also had a positive indirect effect by inhibiting psychological reactance. Implications for persuasion, health communication campaigns, and future research were discussed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Empathy*
  • Fear* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology
  • Young Adult